‘Wildcats everywhere’: Which High School Musical was the best?

, and | Student Life Editors

Disney announced that it’s making “High School Musical 4,” to be released in 2018, but Cadenza simply cannot wait until then to express our Wildcat fever. To pass the time, we’ve been arguing amongst ourselves about which “High School Musical” is the best and why:

“HSM 1”

by Lindsay Tracy

Ah, 2006. Remember when the first chords of “Start of Something New” began to float across your television screen. Gabriella looked down, arms crossed, nervous and unwilling. Troy sings his part and turns to leave the stage. Then, Gabriella’s voice comes through the microphone. Troy stops in his tracks and turns around in wonder. Their voices blend together in a beautiful melody as the New Year’s Eve crowd gets riled up and yells along with them. It was, indeed, the start of something new: an era of the Wildcats.

The chemistry between breakout stars Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron was palpable, and the innocence of their quest for romance and self-discovery was one that everyone could identify with with sitting at home on their couch watching the Disney Channel. (I swoon at the many almost-kisses.) The anticipation of who Gabriella and Troy would become in high school, especially under Sharpay’s social dictatorship, left us on the edge of our seats.

The original “High School Musical” was the paragon of hopefulness in high school. The way it emphasized self-determinism broke the mold of many tween programs of the time. Gabriella’s position in her new school is determined by herself; Zeke Baylor and Troy redefine masculinity, as Zeke professes his love for baking and Troy prioritizes theater over the intense pressure his father places on him to play basketball. Remember when Troy has to ditch Chad in the hallway, escape from his dad and hide behind a custodial cart while Ms. Darbus talks about the protocols of auditions?

It was an innocent time. The hero and heroine are straightforwardly nice people, with no moral ambiguities like there are later in the series, and together, they have an actual impact on the school. They break down the norm (especially in the song about the status quo) and the idea of being true to yourself in your interactions with others prevails.

I haven’t even mentioned the soundtrack yet, which is undoubtedly the best of the three films. With all-star songs like “Get’cha Head In The Game,” “Stick To The Status Quo,” “Bop To The Top,” “Breaking Free” and “We’re All In This Together,” the tunes are memorable and sing-along friendly, which is really all you can ask out of a TV movie musical. Even 11 years later, you can’t help but break out into song and dance at the introductory melodies of each of the songs. The choreography, too, sparked copycat moves everywhere. (The fake-out basketball throw?)

The point is: “High School Musical” was the beginning of everything. It was the intro to the wildcats, to questioning the toxic masculinity present in most high school social structures, to social self-determinism in uniting high school social classes, to snazzy tunes and crazy over-hundred-person choreography numbers. It was the beginning of the Wildcat era, when all tweens and teens were united in their love of “HSM,” just like the characters united. If “HSM 1” isn’t your favorite of the series, you need to get’cha head in the game.

“HSM 2″

by Emily Schienvar

We’re probably in agreement that the Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) behemoth has produced some incredible works of art, including the “Halloweentown” and “High School Musical” movie franchises, both of which earned not just one but several sequels. In both of these amazing series, however, the first sequels definitely take the cake. They take the drive and dedication from the first movie and the initial fan reactions of joy and surprise and use them as fuel to create something wonderful. “High School Musical 2” is the perfect example of this—the energy and passion of the never-before-seen genius of the first installment are fused with an excellent color scheme and a risky move outside of the high school. Does “High School Musical 2” recycle the plotline of the first movie? Absolutely not! This is DCOM gold here.

This is the first movie where we get to see Zac Efron’s voice as Troy truly shine. In the first “HSM,” his voice was blended with Drew Seeley’s. In this movie, Troy faces the struggle of fame versus friendship, a classic celebrity challenge. “Bet On It” takes Troy’s immense personal battle and transforms it into what is unarguably the best musical number that the Disney Channel has ever produced in one of its DCOMs. The choreography, the emotion, the anguish on Zac Efron’s face, that iconic splash in the golf course waters…who doesn’t get the biggest of kicks out of that?

The full soundtrack to “HSM 2” is the best of all three movies. Whenever someone asks me the time, even 10 years after the movie’s glorious television premiere, I immediately think of the opening number, “What Time Is It?” And no one can deny the sexual tension in the baseball field duet, “I Don’t Dance,” sung by Chad and Ryan. In a moment of feminist glory, Gabrielle takes a stand for herself with “Gotta Go My Own Way,” leaving her boyfriend Troy to sort himself out at Sharpay’s country club. Speaking of Sharpay, her big musical number “Fabulous” features a pink piano in a swimming pool, a cool posse called “the Sharpettes,” amazing wordplay (Towels imported from Turkey / And turkey imported from Maine) and that iconic Sharpay glam factor. Troy rallies the troops in “Work This Out,” and we can’t forget the incredible Miley Cyrus cameo in the final poolside number, “All for One,” knowing that at the time, the Hannah Montana hype was also at its peak.

“HSM2 2” may not have had the budget and glitz that the theater-released “HSM 3” had, but this TV movie does so much more with less. The soundtrack: soulful. The choreography: incredible. It stays true to the spirit of “High School Musical,” while venturing into new and wonderful territory.

“HSM 3”

by Alberto De La Rosa

“High School Musical” defined a large part of our lives, which is why watching the third and final film was equal parts devastating and satisfying. This is because, as we were growing up and maturing, so did “High School Musical.” If you recall, the third installment finds the cast back at East High, in their last year as they navigate through the anxieties and compromises that come with graduation. We watch them as they have to make life-defining decisions, say the hardest goodbyes and accept that nothing will ever be the same.

Unlike the previous two films, “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” received a theatrical release. This meant a bigger budget and larger, more elaborate production. It was a smart move that not only benefited Disney’s pockets but the film’s story as well. The songs, for once, were more carefully produced and lyrically challenging. Yes, the first two films gave us some of the most iconic songs in the history of musical films, but they lacked quality. I mean, Zac Efron didn’t even sing in the first film, and I don’t think I’ll ever forgive that we’ll never get to hear him sing “Breaking Free.” The songs in the third film are less melodramatic and more plot-driven. Every song is perfectly delivered and timed in a way that feels organic to each character arch and the overall narrative. Above all, the songs are surprisingly emotional and moving.

In the beginning of the film, we watch a romantic interaction between Troy and Gabriella in his tree house that subtly hints at the uncertainty of their future. They sing “Right Here, Right Now” as a way to reassure themselves that all that matters is the present, although they know that’s not entirely true.

Gabriella’s solo song, “Walk Away,” encapsulates her relationship with Troy since they first met on New Year’s Eve in 2005. It’s a heartbreak song that digs deeper to explore the unpredictable nature of love. In this case, Gabriella is battling with a love she never thought would be this strong while deciding what’s best for her future.

If there’s anything that I treasure most about “High School Musical 3” from the five times I watched it in theaters it is its profoundly realistic central conflict. The stakes are high in this film. We’re no longer dealing with whether Troy can sing and play basketball or whether Gabriella and Troy can make it through the summer. There are real life, adult, life-changing decisions that they’re up against. We watch as Gabriella gets accepted into Stanford and has to decide whether love is a priority over her career path. Chad exposes his anxieties about the world around him rapidly changing and about moving on despite the fact he doesn’t want to. Ryan struggles with self-doubt about his musical talents because he has been in Sharpay’s shadow for so long that he is unsure if he can do it on his own. And, there’s Troy, afraid of making the wrong decision and regretting it for the rest of his life, afraid of disappointing his dad and Chad by taking a different direction than what is expected of him, afraid of breaking away from his true, once-in-a-lifetime love which he quickly realizes when he decides to drive to Stanford on prom day and surprise Gabriella in what is possibly the sweetest, most charming and corniest moment in the entire trilogy. This is a film that surely many of us identify with. It’s a film that speaks to the youth, whose worries and turmoils are often minimized and dismissed simply because we’re young.

The film is able to accomplish all of that with charm and an unprecedented enthusiasm. There’s plenty of iconography in this film that makes it as popular as its predecessors: Gabriella and Troy dancing under the rain on the school’s rooftop; Troy and Chad transforming into child versions of themselves in the memorable “The Boys Are Back” number; Sharpay getting duped by her assistant who pulls a Sharpay on her. Also impressive is the dazzling choreography that without doubt upstages that of the previous two films. If you don’t audibly gasp during Sharpay’s “I Want It All” or the preprom number “A Night To Remember,” you aren’t appreciating the film enough. Ultimately, we should at least be grateful that we finally watched an actual musical in the film, unlike in the first film, where we only saw the auditions.

The film’s final scene is a breakup scene disguised under a happy dance number as the cast graduates and says their goodbyes to each other, to East High and to us. But, once a wildcat…